I had the pleasure of attending the Utah March For Refugees today in Salt Lake City. I often forget, while living in a deep red state, that there are people here that are kind and caring and even share some of the same politics I do. We may disagree on a lot of other things not related to the plight of our world’s refugees, but for a couple of hours today, on a beautiful February day in Salt Lake City, we walked a little over a mile to show our support for those that may have felt some impact from President Trump’s recent Executive Order about refugees and immigration.
Walking around the state capital for the first time in probably 25 years, I was reminded about Utah’s own history with refugees. For those that may not know, Utah was founded after the settlement of Mormon pioneers in the summer of 1847. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in upstate New York by a man named Joseph Smith in 1830. After that, the Mormons were targeted by hateful folks, forcing them to flee to Ohio for a bit. In 1839, after they had settled in Missouri for a bit, the Missouri governor issued Executive Order 44, ordering the removal or destruction of the Mormons currently living in the state.
The Mormons then fled to Nauvoo, Illinois, on the other side of the Mississippi River, and Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were imprisoned in Carthage Jail for reasons. It was there where the Smiths were murdered by an angry mob, prompting the flight of the Mormons west. Brigham Young led these Mormons, eventually ending up in what would become Salt Lake City and the state of Utah. In This Place, the Mormons found a safe place, free of all those angry mobs that had chased them from their previous homes. Utah was pretty much founded as a religious refugee enclave.
One of those early Mormon pioneers happened to be my great-great grandmother. I can’t imagine being 8 or 9 years old, never really settled anywhere your entire life, but not really understanding why, and then walking thousands of miles to a new place that, even in the mid 19th century, was lacking many of the “comforts” that you had in your current home. Utah was largely uninhabited when the pioneers arrived, but luckily the Mormons were pretty industrious and built a city out of pretty much nothing in the middle of a desert, irrigating the land and bringing trees and stone down from the surrounding canyons using oxen cart.
While spending the past week or so reading accounts of refugees detained at airports or being sent back to the place they were fleeing, I thought back to that little girl walking across the plains to her new home. Without her family’s sacrifices, I don’t know if I would be here today, and wouldn’t have been able to even participate in the March today. This country has millions of stories just like hers, with so many people here because of troubles where they were from. Being a refugee doesn’t immediately make you a bad person, but simply a person looking for safety. Hopefully, with judges halting the Executive Order, we can return to being a country that offers people safety instead of hate.
Until next time…